Written by Marcus Woolf
If you’re heading to the Appalachian Trail this spring, and you plan to camp between Jarrard Gap and Neels Gap, add a bear canister to your gear list.
The USDA Forest Service announced this month that hikers must store their food in a bear canister—rather than just hang food in a bag—if they camp along this five miles of the AT from March 1 though June 1. The storage regulation applies to camping within the Blood Mountain Wilderness Area within a quarter mile of the trail, and also the Blood Mountain Shelter and Woods Hole Shelter.
Forest service officials say bear encounters have increased significantly in this area the last few years, and a canister works better that a “bear bag” to contain odors and prevent bears from getting their paws on food. “In the last two years, we’ve had emergency closures for camping areas because the bears have become so bold,” Judy Toppins, a public affairs officer for the USDA Forest Service, told us.
The regulation is in effect from March to June because bears are more active during those months. “During spring, natural food for bears is not plentiful, but the bears are becoming more active,” says Toppins. Also during this time period, human traffic reaches its peak as thru-hikers begin their journey to Maine.
Of course, most weight-conscious thru-hikers loathe the idea of lugging a bear canister, which can weigh more than 2 pounds empty. But Toppins says many hikers will simply choose to not camp where canisters are required.
“We’re encouraging folks to just breeze on through,” says Toppins. “It’s a five-mile stretch, and if you plan ahead, you can avoid camping in that area.”
For more information on canister regulations or protection from black bears, visit the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests website at www.fs.usda.gov.conf, or call the Blue Ridge Ranger District at 706-745-6928.
If you want to get a bear canister, here are several products on the market…
Made of rugged polycarbonate, this canister resists impacts and won’t shatter. Plus, it’s transparent so you don’t have to dig blindly to grab what you want. The rainproof lid can be removed and secures without tools, and dimples on the side prevent carry straps from shifting if you strap it to a pack.
Weight: 2 pounds, 9 ounces
Volume: 700 cubic inches (11.5 liters). Holds 7 days of food
Dimensions: 8.7 inches x 12.7 inches
Retail price: $79.95; www.bearvault.com
BearVault BV450 Solo Food Container
This is the smaller and lighter brother of the BV500, and is constructed with the same materials and features.
Weight: 2 pounds, 1 ounce
Volume: 440 cubic inches (7.2 liters). Holds 4 days of food.
Dimensions: 8.7 inches x 8.3 inches
Retail price: $69.95; www.bearvault.com
Garcia Bear-Resistant Container
Made of a bomber polymer material, this canister has smooth sides and rounded edges so bears can’t grip it easily. It has stainless steel bear-proof locks that open with a coin or screwdriver.
Weight: 2 pounds, 12 ounces
Volume: 640 cubic inches (10 liters). Holds 6 days of food
Dimensions: 12 inches x 8.8 inches
Retail price: $69; www.backpackerscache.com
UDAP No-Fed-Bear Canister
Made of a durable polymer material, this canister withstood testing at Yellowstone’s Wolf & Grizzly Discovery Center, and it’s approved for use in National Parks and on public lands. Like the Garcia canister, it has locks that open with a coin or screwdriver.
Weight: 2.4 pounds
Volume: 502 cubic inches (8.2 liters)
Dimensions: 8 inches x 10 inches
Retail price: $69.95; www.udap.com
Counter Assault Bear Keg
Made of a durable, bright yellow polymer, this canister is easy to locate after you’ve placed it away from camp. It’s certified for use in all U.S. National Parks and is certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group.
Weight: 3.4 pounds
Volume: 716 cubic inches (11.7 liters). Holds 6-8 days of food.
Dimensions: 9 inches x 13.7 inches
Retail price: $79.95; www.counterassault.com